Tom Furrier

The Annual Type-Out at Tom Furrier's

I had the privilege last week of attending the annual Type-Out at Tom Furrier's well-known shop, Cambridge Typewriter. 

The day came on the heel of Hurricane Jose, which had stalled off the coast for days, drenching more than damaging but making an outside event seem dubious. Yet the sun shone innocently and it was as if the beauty of early fall had never been in doubt. The event took place on the grassy sidewalk outside Tom's small store, where typewriter lovers of all ages gathered with their machines to type.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. 

I knew there would be a speed typing competition, with a typewriter as a prize! I didn't think I'd win (I came in 4th. We all typed furiously for five timed minutes from copies of a piece on the American Revolution in Boston) but I'm glad I had a go. But as it turned out that was not the true prize. 

For three hours there was the pleasure of like-minded conversation with strangers over a shared joy. We enjoyed refreshments, exclaimed over and tried each others' typewriters and those in the store, and generally went in the opposite direction of rush and hustle.

With me came my daughter and her cherished Webster XL-500, her small blue 1970s birthday-present-from-this-store machine. And my Olympia SM3, early 1950s two-tone wonder of precise engineering, lugged along in its space-age silver carrying case. There were two other of these iconic German machines at the event and we owners chatted knowingly, comparing typefaces and finishes. I left my typewriter on the sidewalk table while I browsed and chatted in the store. It was amusing to return and find messages typed there that I hadn't written:

"how do you erase mistakes?!?! tell me nate. help. this is so much fun!"

"I like this large font. I wouldn't have to search the house for my glasses before working in the morning if I used this."

Someone was typing a passage in Middle English on an Olympia SM9 equipped with ME characters. I enjoyed seeing and trying the bright yellow Montgomery Ward Escort 55, having had my eye on one in an online auction earlier in the week. A field typewriter showed up with its owner and we marvelled as it was set up, complete with fold-out legs from within, and the box lid, a table: all ready to type dispatches from the battlefield!

A family walking past stopped to look, and then asked to try my machine. They were hooked, the kids excited, a deal was struck over a machine someone else had brought, and they were now typewriter owners too. The dad and teen wrangled over who it would actually belong to.

Friends of attendees, who'd tagged along, went home with typewriters of their own. And some who'd brought one machine went home with two.

There was a festive atmosphere, a celebration of togetherness in sharing this quirky (qwerty?) joy.

Click any image to enlarge.

From the store typewriters for sale, it was a treat to get my hands on an Aztec 700 to try. This East German postwar machine is a variation on the Erika, seldom seen with a non-German keyboard. I would love to buy an Erika 10. However this week I was not going to buy ... I'd brought something to leave.

There amongst the machines piled around Tom's desk, waiting their turn for repair, is one more typewriter case, black and scuffed, with its fresh orange tag. I'm very excited to see how it turns out after the magic is worked on its 1940s wear and tear: a lovely maroon Smith Corona Silent flat top, just waiting for new life and someone to love it again.

I had bought it used online and it arrived in the mail last month. I opened it with bated breath, imagining a pile of typewriter parts falling out, but was thrilled to see it in such good shape.

I didn't think Tom would have time to look at a typewriter in the middle of his annual bash but when I mentioned what I had waiting in the car he was eager for me to fetch it right away. He took the heavy case from me on the sidewalk, dashed to his desk at the rear of the shop, and quickly had the whole sized up, taking in every detail. A tag was written up: "Lots of little problems," and a receipt given. "Two weeks ok? This is going to be a marvellous machine."

And indeed it will be. 

If you missed the documentary released earlier this year about Tom Furrier, his work repairing typewriters, and the rennaissance of the machine, make sure you watch here. So far, just the short version is available. But you get the feel of the shop and the brilliance of the man. 

You will also notice, if you are astute, in the shop window pictured above a poster for the movie California Typewriter. An Oscar-contending full-length documentary that previewed at last month's Toronto Film Festival, California Typewriter was released generally last week in the US.

It's brilliant. Go see it.

Especially if all this talk of typewriters is a mystery of seeming nonsense to you. Or if you would have been tempted to join the old codger sitting on a bench next to Tom Furrier's store who enjoyed scoffing loudly at our event: "What's this? Typewriters? I can't believe my eyes! You're all going back to the cave!"

I assured him there were actually no typewriters back when cave art was created.

For the trailer, to find a screening, and more info: http://californiatypewritermovie.com/